My Shade

Ask me to describe God and I might start with His attributes. God is love. He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and ever-present. He is holy, He is good, and He is unchanging. He is sovereign, He is just. He is merciful, and He abounds in grace. And the list goes on.

Ask me what He’s like and I might answer in the way He relates to me. He’s my Deliverer. My Rock and my Fortress. He’s my heavenly Father. And that list could go on too.

But as I read in Psalm 121 this morning, I was reminded of another word picture for God. One that doesn’t come to mind immediately. One that I’m not sure I’d come up with, at all. But one that is evident, even if not always recognized. He is my shade.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
….From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
….who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
….He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
….will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is Your keeper;
….the LORD is Your shade on Your right hand.

(Psalm 121:1-5 ESV)

Jehovah, Your shade.

Be honest, it’s probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of God. Probably not the tenth. But doesn’t He protect us from the heat of trials and troubles? When the intensity of the situation is ramped way up, how do we get through? By the LORD who is our keeper, the One who descends to be our shade.

For You have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.

(Isaiah 25:4a ESV)

As difficult as the trial might seem, yet it could be so much worse if not for His shade. While the going get’s tough, we still keep going because our God quietly, yet faithfully, positions Himself between us and the worst of the storm.

So often we sweat and fret in the heat, unaware of the respite we’re experiencing because He has already taken up position, through His Spirit, at our right hand. Often, before we even come to an awareness of needing to draw near to Him, through the Comforter He has already drawn alongside us. Before we gain enough equilibrium to cast all our cares upon Him, He has already started providing a covering for us.

The LORD is Your shade on Your right hand.

And while we might picture a great tree as providing such needed shade, the shade He provides is found at the foot of the cross, and the footstool of His throne.

As we come to the cross, we’re reminded afresh of the Him who is fully able to sympathize with our weakness, has Himself suffered, and is able to help those in times of trial and testing. Does Jesus care? Oh yes, He cares! And He is ready to make intercession.

And such intercession is made in the very presence of God the Almighty. In the holy of holies, before His throne of grace. To which we are invited to draw near in confidence, in full assurance by faith, “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). To abide in the shadow of His throne, His holy presence sufficient for our every need.

So often, when things heat up, I’m prone to forget that it would be unbearably hot if not for Him. That the crucible’s intesity would consume me if not for Jehovah, my shade.

What amazing grace. To Him be everlasting glory.

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True Companion

At best, he’s a bit player. A walk-on in a stage production. A cameo appearance in a movie. Doesn’t have a speaking part. Name’s not even listed in the credits. You barely notice him. He’s a no name. But this morning I’m noodling on Paul’s true companion.

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

(Philippians 4:2-3 ESV)

So often I just blow by these first verses of Philippians 4. Anxious to get on to rejoicing in the Lord always, and requesting of the Lord for everything, and resting in the Lord with a peace that passes understanding, I fail to pause and consider how important is reconciling in the Lord.

Paul writes to a church but singles out two ladies. Not to shame them, but because of his high esteem for them. They had labored with the beloved apostle side by side, and yet, somehow, they were now head to head. Whatever the misunderstanding, whatever the offense, whatever the disagreement, Paul called in the troops to help mend this broken relationship.

That great effort should be brought to bear to bring blood-bought believers back into friendship and fellowship seems so foreign to so many today. All too often in the church, when relationships get rocky, we simply concede that someone’s eventually going to end up leaving. The body’s going to lose a member. The fellowship’s going to be fractured. But if we’d take our cue from Paul, we’d plead with the combatants to work it out, and, as needed, we’d enlist others to draw alongside and help. We’d call on the true companion.

This guy, or gal, is the real-meal deal. A genuine, sincere, “yokefellow.” A comrade, a colleague, a consort. Someone Paul could trust. Like the ladies, a faithful partner.

And while he’s not named, he’s enlisted. And, as a true companion, you know that he engaged. He willingly mediated. He diligently brokered reconciliation. He did what needed to be done, not for any accolade but for the good of the family of God. He became involved not because it would benefit him necessarily but because it would strengthen the body. He was open to getting into the mess a bit if he could be used of the Spirit to make beautiful Christ’s bride.

That Paul would pause in his letter to address this minor scuffle among two sisters is noteworthy. It’s a reminder of the importance placed by the Head of the church on maintaining the unity of the Spirit among a gathering of believers (Eph. 4:3). But that he would also enlist a no name to do something with almost no recognition for the benefit of the church, should perhaps also awaken us to the possibility that the Lord might call us to be a true companion.

Not just a friend to our friends, but a friend to our family. Willing to be prompted by the Spirit to draw alongside those who have turned away from each other. Not to meddle but to mend. Not to take sides but to restore the bond of peace. Not that we’d be noticed, but that others would be blessed.

Because of grace. For His glory.

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Seek Your Servant

It’s not the ending you’d expect. After 175 verses scripted to exalt the law of the Lord it’s not the finale you’d think would be written.

Or is it? Maybe after penning such an ode of delight for God’s word, and claiming again and again the deliverance promised in God’s word, and pledging repeatedly a holy desire to obey and walk in the ways of God’s word, it might just be appropriate to humbly seek mercy, grace, and help in time of need from the God of God’s word.

My tongue will sing of Your word, for all Your commandments are right.
Let Your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen Your precepts.
I long for Your salvation, O LORD, and Your law is my delight.
Let my soul live and praise You, and let Your rules help me.
I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant,
for I do not forget Your commandments.

(Psalm 119:172-176 ESV)

Seek Your servant.

After proclaiming his delight for God’s commandments . . . after declaring His determination to make God’s ways his ways . . . after lifting up his voice, again and again, in praise and adoration to a God who has so spoken into this world . . . the songwriter finishes with, “Seek Your servant because I have a tendency to wander off.”

What does this say about the songwriter? Having penned such an opus around God’s word, he humbly acknowledges his frailty in seeking to walk in God’s way. He recognizes that while the spirit may be willing, the flesh is weak. That often holy determination is hamstrung by worldly distraction. That great declarations of faith are so often broad-sided by unanticipated times of failure. While the psalmist pens a great song, he never loses sight of his need for a great Savior.

And what does this say about a God who is willing to act as a shepherd? A Creator who is willing to pursue His creation? A Sovereign who is willing to draw alongside His servants? Behold our God!

Having revealed Himself through His word . . . having made clear the way that we should walk . . . having enabled us with a new nature and a heaven-sent power, even with all that He has provided, He faithfully concedes to having to leave the ninety-nine to retrieve the one gone astray. Not that He might punish the lost lamb, but that He might rejoice in its found-ness (Matt. 18:12-13).

Seeking His servants is not some burden our God must bear. It is the joy of an infinitely patient, merciful, and grace-abounding God to respond to his children’s cry, “Abba Father, come find me when I get lost.”

Having received the ransom for our sins once and for all, the shed blood of His Son on the cross of Calvary, He adopts those of faith as His children. Our sins–past, present, and future–atoned for, He now promises to complete the work He has begun in us (Php. 1:6). And if that process should require the Great Shepherd to retrieve some wandering sheep, then, for His glory, He will seek His servant when His servant goes astray.

O that I would not stray. But as the hymn-writer reminds me, I’m “prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.”

But that I would also know my Shepherd’s heart and His longing to answer my plea, “Seek Your servant.”

Such is the confidence and peace of grace. Such is why He is deserving of all glory.

Amen?

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Rab Shalom

“How’s your heart?” It’s a question my girls regularly ask me, and each other, these days. “I can see how you’re doing life on the outside,” they’re saying, “but what’s the state of affairs on the inside?”

Truth be told, who hasn’t known what it is to go through the motions to get through the day while being a mess deep down inside? I’m guessing we’ve all been there at one time or another. So, if being real is important to us, then it’s probably a fair question to ask, or be asked, from time to time: “How’s your heart?”

This morning, the psalmist’s response grabbed me.

Great peace have those who love Your law; nothing can make them stumble.

(Psalm 119:165 ESV)

Great peace. How’s that for an answer?

Rab shalom in the Hebrew.

Much tranquility. Exceeding completeness. Abounding soundness. Abundant contentment.  Great peace.  Rab shalom.

Who wouldn’t want to buy what rab shalom is selling? Who wouldn’t want to respond to, “How’s your heart?” with a truthful, “Rab shalom!”

And the secret sauce for great peace is a love for the word of God. A desire to hear His voice and know His ways. An appetite for “pure spiritual milk” because we have “tasted that the Lord is good” (1Pet. 2:2-3). A longing to walk according to His laws and statutes because we have known something of the reality of His love and grace.

Not that this rab shalom dwells with those who perfectly keeps His law, for who is up to such a task? But that, at the end of the day, there is abundant contentment for those who bring themselves in line with His word’s great revelation.

Those who strive to walk in obedience, because they believe that, through the blood of Christ, they have been gifted with a great reconciliation. Those who make every effort to square their hearts with God’s precepts and commands because they have known the fruit of God’s redemption, the righteousness of Christ credited to their account. Those who, in a sense, live beyond themselves in their pursuit of holiness because they have been made holy, given all they need to participate in the divine nature (2Pet. 1:4). Those who keep on keepin’ on now, even in trial and failure, because of the comfort of the Spirit given them as a deposit guaranteeing an eternal inheritance to come.

Abounding soundness because of an unshakeable foundation. Much tranquility as they are tethered to an unfailing anchor. Exceeding completeness because of His ever accessible voice. Great peace have those who love His law.

Great peace, not because of the absence of obstacles, but because of the presence of God. Great peace, even in great trouble, because a great God has made Himself known through His living word. An abiding confidence, that though we will continue to encounter troubles and run into obstacles, that ultimately we will not stumble–we will not fall–because He is faithful.

Rab shalom. Great peace.  Though the word of our great God.

Revealing anew His great grace.  All that He might be given afresh great glory.

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The Surpassing Worth of Losing It All

For many, it simply wouldn’t add up. They’d do the math, look at the profit and loss statement, and then take a pass on making the trade. But not Paul. He was all in. Convinced of the surpassing worth of losing it all.

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

(Philippians 3:4b-8a ESV)

Paul’s profile on LinkedIn would have been pretty impressive. His Facebook page would have been full of “Likes.” Those who followed him on Twitter would have been many. By any measure of those in his community, he had it all. He was on his way to the top.

Loving, devout parents who brought him up in the way he should go, having started him off right by ensuring he was circumcised on the eighth day. A member of God’s chosen earthly people. What’s more, of the tribe of a favored son, the one named “son of my right hand,” one of two boys born to Israel’s beloved Rachel. But while born into privilege, he was also driven to perform–doing all that needed to be done to leverage his advantage for achievement. Zealous for his heritage, customs, and religion, he sought to excel. Rising to elite status. A man of purpose and action, even crusading against that which He thought defamed and denied His God.

Paul had it all. If his biography to that point had been written as an accounting ledger, the assets listed would have been many. The things that had been gain to him would have made most envious.

But then he discovered something far better. Something which made his achievements pale in comparison. So much so, that he willingly transferred his assets into the Loss column.

What is it that causes someone who has it all to let it all go? That compels someone who has climbed their way to the top to be willing to get off the ladder?

It’s the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.

And I wonder, has the familiarity of being a Christian devalued the privilege of being in Christ? If I were to create my own ledger would Christ alone be on the Gain side and everything else under the heading Loss ? If I were to list my assets, would Christ be at the top of the list? If I were to document my priorities would my pursuit of Him be preeminent, directing everything else? If I were to catalog my treasures, would abiding in Him out-value everything else?

As I chew on it, I can’t help but ask myself, do I count everything loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord? Or is my relationship with Christ better characterized as supplemental worship. Part of a well-balanced life, with enough of the pie given to seeking the King and His kingdom so that my conscience is eased and my community’s expectations are met?

Chewing on questions more than answers this morning. Noodling on what it means to count all things loss. Meditating on the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.

By His grace. For His glory.

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New Wineskins

They weren’t crazy about John’s message, but his methods, at least, seemed in line. The amount of time spent in fasting by his disciples seemed consistent with what righteousness demanded. And they were seen offering prayers in the temple often enough that, while they might be somewhat over-the-top in terms of their emphasis on repentance, at least they were still in line with what was deemed as being right and responsible. Yes, in the Pharisee’s estimation, the actions of John disciples, like theirs, were in line with what you’d expect of good, God-fearing followers.

But Jesus’ disciples! What was up with them?

Instead of fasting and prayer, followers of Jesus were marked as those who were out eating and drinking. Instead of parading themselves into the temple or preening themselves on the street corner, as did the religious elite, Jesus’ people were more often at banquets hosted by tax collectors and such. Rather than making sure people saw them turning down the ends of the mouths to indicate how hungry they were, or lifting up their hands to indicate how pious they were, the followers of Jesus were more often overflowing in conversation about how the kingdom had come. Why?

“No one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.” ~ Jesus

(Luke 5:37-38 ESV)

There would be a time for fasting, Jesus said, but not while the bridegroom was still with his invited guests. There would be a time for sober reflection–not to evidence personal holiness but to supplicate for great revival.

In fact, what Jesus was bringing would not fit in the box of law that the Pharisees were preaching. Jesus would fulfill the law, but His good news of salvation through faith alone could not be crammed into any legal framework. God’s grace would be unconnected with man’s goodness. His mercy couldn’t be yoked to their merit. The way of unmerited favor just wouldn’t fit within the works of unregenerate fervor.

You can’t put new wine into old wineskins. And Jesus was bringing new wine.

New wine must be put into new wineskins. The way of grace has no place within the confines of the law. Instead, grace requires a new container, a new context. One in which it’s effervescence and effluence can freely bubble over and flow out. The recipients of grace no longer confined by their ability, or lack thereof, to keep the law, but instead released with the freedom and power of the Spirit to live beyond the law.

The keeping of the law no longer a requirement but now, instead, a response. Praying, not to be deemed worthy and thus accepted by a distant God on a burning mountain, but to boldly enter before the throne of God because they have been declared worthy–holy and righteous, in Christ–and invited to draw near. Fasting, not to attract the attention of men, but to deeply abide in the presence of God.

Not following the law in order to make the grade, but walking in righteousness because, by faith, they have become new creations in Christ now able to participate in the divine nature. Not without failure, but confident in the finished work of the cross and the faithfulness of the God who says that if we confess our sins, He will forgive us our sins and, through the blood of Christ, cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

There’s just too much power in this new wine to be contained in those old wineskins. Too much life to be lived to be hamstrung by a law that can only bring about death. Too much hope to pursue to have it crushed under the weight of heavy burden. Too great a family to be enjoyed for it to be lost amidst formalities of pious propriety.

Old wineskins simply cannot contain the living water Jesus said would be flowing out of the hearts of His followers (Jn. 7:38). The Spirit of God bursting the old, worn skins of religion. Freedom finding expression that destroys legalism.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

(Galatians 5:1 ESV)

A new wine through the cross. A new way in Christ.

New wineskins reflecting His grace. Fresh wineskins declaring His glory.

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The Way Up is Down

It is the greatest “rabbit trail” in all of Scripture. Paul’s going in one direction when, led by the Spirit of God–the Promoter of Christ, he heads down another. One moment he’s exhorting the Philippians to be like-minded, the next He’s extolling the mind of Christ. And his illustrative tangent is enough to make you stand up and shout the hallelujah chorus. For, as William MacDonald so aptly put it, it’s a glorious reminder that the way up is down.

Many have pointed out in various ways the Son’s steps of humiliation and the Father’s corresponding steps of exaltation. It looks something like this:

Jesus didn’t demand the glory due Him though fully God–instead He emptied Himself

More than that, He took the form of servant

…..More than that, He consented to be born in human likeness

…….More than that, He committed to present Himself in the form of a man

……..More than that, He humbled Himself

………..More than that, He became obedient to death

………….More than that, it was the death of a shameful cross

Philippians 2:5-8

………….Therefore, God the Almighty has responded

………..By exalting Him above all heights

………By bestowing on Him a name like no other name

…….By ordaining that at the Name the knee should bow

…..By determining that it would be every knee in all places

By presenting Him such that every tongue is compelled to confess that Jesus is Lord

To the glory of God

Philippians 2:9-11

Thus the way up is down.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus (Php. 2:5).

But before I rush to heed the exhortation to “let this mind be in you”, I must pause to enter into the exploration of wandering down this glorious rabbit trail. I must avoid rushing to application and instead engage in wondrous meditation fueled by Paul’s tangent. I must consider afresh the Son of God who willingly became the Lamb of God that I might be made in Him a child of God.

What was it for the King of glory to become our atoning sacrifice? For the Source of all creation to endure the suffering of the cross? For the Author of Life to experience the reality of death?

Yet for the joy set before Him He endured the cross and despised the shame (Heb. 12:2).

For though He was laid in the earth, yet on the third day He rose from the dead. His humiliation gave way to exaltation. And He is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Ever to reign. Ever to intercede. Ever to be bowed before and worshiped.

Therefore, have this mind among yourselves.

More here that is felt than tell’t.

Might we know, really know, that the way up is down. Might we praise the Name above all Names. Might we follow, by His enabling, in the way of this glorious rabbit trail.

Because of His abundant grace. All for His everlasting glory.

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